Reading Theory with
Latin American Women's Testimonial Discourse
JOANNA R. BARTOW
The notion of reading theory alongside Latin American testimonial discourse may seem politically questionable since it involves relating elitist Euro-American poststructuralism and a Latin American discourse based on undermining traditional privileges. Reading the two kinds of texts together may appear to reproduce a colonial dynamic where Latin American texts serve as the raw material used to produce the manufactured product of critical theory, trivializing the testimonial informants' experiences. Reading the two together may seem to question testimonio's authenticity and authority by subjecting it to a deconstructive analysis, abstracting testimonio from its real and painful context and lessening its political impact. These concerns have guided the work of significant criticism on testimonio but have currently saturated issues of authenticity, veracity, appropriation and the testimonial informant's validity as representative of a collective identity, leaving testimonial discourse relatively isolated from its repercussions for Latin American literature and contemporary theory.
The present essay indeed confirms misgivings regarding reproduction of the colonial dynamic and the questioning of testimonial texts' veracity when theory and testimonio are brought together, but not because bringing them together necessarily leads to trivialization and appropriation. Just the opposite occurs with a critical reading because idealization of testimonio as a political tool not only ignores the paradoxes inherent in the mediated testimonial process but also its more profound lessons for theory, therefore leading to the current moment of some stagnation in writing on testimonio and to more easily commodifiable “native” identities.